Beginning with tonight's contest vs. 6-1 Virginia, the Irish play four of their next five inside the friendly confines of the Purcell Pavilion. A road date (and likely loss) at No. 2 Syracuse marks the only road game for head coach Mike Brey's Irish prior to Valentine's Day.
A little student body love -- and a four-game home sweep -- is essential if the Irish are to right their sinking ship.
"They're hard to beat at home," Virginia head coach Tony Bennett told Cavaliersdaily.com. "There's not (a) big difference in our league between the tops and the bottoms and record-wise, you throw that out because they can play. They pass the ball well, move the ball. It's a nice team-oriented style of basketball."
Virginia has built it's 6-1 start by taking two of three in conference road games while winning each of its four ACC contests in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers though have also lost true road games against Green Bay and Tennessee, the latter by 35 points prior to the New Year. Bennett's charges have played well since, losing only at Cameron Indoor Stadium vs. Duke, 69-65, over the last four weeks.
Already short-handed with the transfer of redshirt Cameron Biedschied and the suspension of Jerian Grant, Notre Dame will tonight be without sophomore Austin Burgett. Burgett was scheduled for an outpatient cardiac procedure today and is expected to miss at least 7 to 10 days thereafter.
Fifth-year senior center Tom Knight returned to the fray after a four game absence (an ankle injury followed by pneumonia) in Notre Dame's last outing, a 65-58 loss at Wake Forest.
"It's good to have Tom back," Brey told the South Bend Tribune. "You're kind of in that mode of playing three big guys and rotating. Some of our best wins, Indiana and Duke, we've played with those three big guys rotating through and were able to be very dominant in the paint and the front line and on the backboard.
"That's the identity we have to run with right now."
Notre Dame's current identity is a team that fights, scratches, and falls short. It's five conference losses have been by a combined 29 points; just 54 total points separate the Irish and their foes among nine defeats this season.
The home court has provided an antidote for Irish teams throughout the Brey era. For the Irish to reach their pre-season goal of NCAA Tournament play, the final two months and six remaining home tilts must again
Brief but decorated historyThe Irish last met the Cavaliers in 1992, losing 81-76 in the NIT title game. Virginia also defeated Notre Dame and head coach Digger Phelps in 1990 NCAA tournament action, 75-67. The Irish didn't return to the NCAA Tournament for the ensuing decade prior to Brey's arrival.
Virginia leads the all-time series vs. Notre Dame 5-1, its only loss on a buzzer beater by the late Orlando Woolridge that snapped the then No. 1-ranked Cavaliers 28-game winning streak, February 22, 1981, at the former Rosemont Horizon.
Virginia's only trip to South Bend came nearly 22 years ago to the day, a 68-67 win over the then 18th-ranked Irish on January 26, 1991, Phelps' last season at the helm.
Of note: current Irish assistant coach Anthony Solomon played for the Cavaliers from 1983-1987. His stint included the senior season of former college basketball legend, Ralph Sampson, and a trip to the NCAA Final Four.